Thursday, July 09, 2009

Governor Sanford: The "Ultimate Line" Isn't

Forgive me, if this is "old news" to you. I was away without a television or Internet access most of last week, so I missed the latest AP interview with South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. I caught a piece of it last night on the rerun of the July 2nd Daily Show, and went online this morning to find out more.

In the interview, Sanford declared to the whole world that his was a real love story not an affair, that the Argentinian woman was his "soul mate," and that he was trying to work things out with his wife. You have to wonder how he doesn't understand that the first two are going to make the third much more difficult.

But I was also interested in this AP report about his admission of other relationships during his marriage:

Sanford also said that he "crossed the lines" with a handful of other women during 20 years of marriage, but not as far as he did with his mistress. "There were a handful of instances wherein I crossed the lines I shouldn't have crossed as a married man, but never crossed the ultimate line," he said.

Now perhaps he was talking about falling in love with other women, but I'm guessing what he meant was what I sometimes call PVI, penile-vaginal intercourse. It's reminiscent of Bill Clinton's saying "did not have sex with that woman," when he meant he didn't have PVI.

And I find it both disturbing and amusing to see a grown man claim that it isn't sex unless PVI occurs. It's an adolescent sexual ethic that says that sex doesn't count unless Part A goes into Part B. It's what allows young people who are having anal and oral sex to claim they are virgins, and it discounts that gay and lesbian people have sex at all. It's an ethic that makes men with prostate cancer and women with vaginismus give up sexual contact with their partners completely because they can't have "sex" anymore. It's a construct that keeps people from understanding that all sexual behaviors don't have to end in intercourse. It's a way for people like Governor Sanford to break their commitments to their wives because they maintain that intimate behaviors that don't include intercourse somehow don't "count."

It's an act-center morality that needs to be replaced with one based on relationships, not on particular sexual acts or the gender of the persons involved. To my mind, there isn't an "ultimate line" that determines the morality of a sexual experience, but it's whether it's consensual, non-exploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable and protected -- and consistent with one's personal values. I can't know for sure, but at least on values and honesty, it seems like the Governor crossed that line a long time ago.


Anonymous said...

If you read in other places it's pretty obvious he thinks dancing with other women is crossing a line...

Desmond Ravenstone said...

I'm all for replacing an "act-centered" moralism with a more relational one. But let me raise a couple of cases...

Two women meet and fall in love, and begin a very happy relationship together. Eventually they meet a man, and both feel very strongly attracted to him on many levels. It becomes apparent to one another, and they discuss their feelings, then bring their friend into the discussion. A little over a year later, the three stand together in a ceremony, where the two women welcome the man they love into their family as an equal partner.

A happily married woman discloses to her husband that her interest in BDSM has only grown over the past few years. The husband agrees to attend local kink groups and consider exploring this with her. After a few months, he tells her that, while he does not share her interest in this, he does understand her better -- and is open to her engaging in limited play with trustworthy members of the local BDSM community.

These are just two examples of consensual, respectful, loving and mutually fulfilling relationships; more are out there across the country and around the world. They are, for various reasons, not as public as the majority of strictly monogamous relationships out there -- just as so many same-sex romantic relationships were "kept quiet" decades ago.

If we are to define sex beyond the "traditional" standard of penile-vagina intercourse, then why not define relationships beyond the "traditional" standard of "two people and no one else"?